Bowl Season Update: Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty in LendingTree Bowl
A lot of eyes will be on Liberty's QB as EMU searches for first bowl win since 1987.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! Eastern Michigan’s going bowling and the team will head down to Alabama to play in this year’s LendingTree Bowl vs. Liberty. Liberty’s got a good quarterback, but man it’s been hard to get interested in Liberty football at all over the last couple of years. Though, this should still be a quality matchup for EMU.
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Eastern Michigan’s headed to Mobile to take on Liberty
It just has to be Liberty, doesn’t it?
After a 7-5 regular season, Eastern Michigan will be headed to Mobile, Ala. to play in the the LendingTree Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium vs. Liberty (7-5) on Saturday, Dec. 18.
Under the leadership of Chris Creighton (8th year, 37-56 record), Eastern has been able to reach bowl games in four of the last six seasons, missing the 2017 and 2020 seasons with 5-7 and 2-4 records, respectably, in that span. Eastern’s still looking for that first bowl victory in the Creighton era, though. EMU’s played well in all three previous bowl games under Creighton but here’s the ledger: Eastern lost 24-20 vs. Old Dominion in the 2016 Bahama’s Bowl, lost 23-21 to Georgia southern in the 2018 Camellia Bowl, and lost 34-30 to Pitt in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl.
Before the recent run into bowl games, EMU hadn’t been in a bowl game since 1987 when the Hurons (10-2) beat San Jose State 30-27 in the California Bowl.
The Liberty Flames are led by Hugh Freeze in his third year there (23-8) after he “resigned” from Ole Miss. The reason why Freeze was fired from Ole Miss isn’t totally important for the upcoming bowl game that we’re all excited to watch, but I still want you to remember that Freeze “resigned” from Ole Miss because he got caught paying for sex.
Here’s another Liberty thing that you may or may not remember, and no it’s not important to the upcoming bowl game that you JUST CANNOT WAIT TO WATCH, but does anybody remember Jerry Falwell Jr.? The son of a son of a Southern Baptist pastor, and whose daddy actually founded Liberty University back in 1971, Jerry Jr. was born into the Southern, evangelical life and eventually became Liberty’s president when Jerry Sr. died in 2007. Of all the controversies Jerry Jr. found himself in over the years, the one that actually cost him his job at his daddy’s private university was the not-very-Christian-like relationship dynamics between him and his wife. Because it included their pool boy being on the bed with Jerry Jr.’s wife Becki, and her husband watching from the other side of the room.
Giancarlo Granda says he was 20 when he met Jerry and Becki Falwell while working as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in March 2012. Starting that month and continuing into 2018, Granda told Reuters that the relationship involved him having sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell looked on.
Granda showed Reuters emails, text messages and other evidence that he says demonstrate the sexual nature of his relationship with the couple, who have been married since 1987. “Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda said in an interview. Now 29, he described the liaisons as frequent – “multiple times per year” – and said the encounters took place at hotels in Miami and New York, and at the Falwells’ home in Virginia.
Between the legacy of all legacy families that school could have being incredibly unpopular by Real World standards and the football coach landing a job at Liberty after Ole Miss — OLE MISS! — let him out the door for paying escorts for sex (as a married man), it’s just been super hard to get anybody positively interested in Liberty football over the last two seasons.
Football. Let’s talk about the football.
On the football field, many had high hopes for Liberty coming into the year for a few reasons. In 2020, Liberty went 10-1 to finish with #17 ranking in the final AP poll and beat Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. Liberty still wasn’t an AP preseason Top 25 team, but its potential to win another 10 games was there; Liberty’s strength of schedule is ranked #102 in the country.
With a 7-5 record, Liberty has wins over Campbell (FCS), Troy, Old Dominion, UAB, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, and UMass, and losses to Syracuse, UL-Monroe, Ole Miss, Louisiana, and Army.
If there’s any one player EMU will focus a lot of attention on in this bowl game, it’s the quarterback. Malik Willis is a huge reason why Liberty had a historic 10-win season in 2020, and he’s somebody many NFL Draft analysts and scouts will have their eye on. By the media’s expectations, Willis, an Auburn transfer, was one of the top quarterbacks in the country, so this game will be his last collegiate opportunity to have good tape for evaluators to pay attention to. For the year, Willis was 194/315 passing (61.6%) for 2,626 yards (8.3 yards/att.) with 24 TD and 12 INT. As a runner, Willis was actually quite productive: 189 rust attempts, 820 yards, 11 TD.
EMU’s going to try to match anything Willis puts up with some strong QB play out of Ben Bryant (Cincinnati transfer), who led the MAC in completion percentage (68.8%) and sixth in yards per attempt (7.9). Liberty’s pass defense currently ranks 25th nationally (tied with six others, including Notre Dame) in passing yards per attempt allowed (6.7) and has also held opponents to just 55.5% passing on the year (10th nationally).
Kickoff for the game on the 18th starts at 5:45 p.m., and can be watched live on ESPN.
Mid-American Conference’s bowl game schedule
12/17 | Bahamas Bowl: Toledo (7-5) vs. Middle Tennesee (6-6)
12/17 | Tailgreeter Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2)
12/18 | LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Liberty (7-5)
12/21 | Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State (7-5) vs. Wyoming (6-6)
12/21 | Frisco Football Classic: Miami OH (6-6) vs. North Texas (6-6)
12/25 | TaxAct Camellia Bowl: Ball State (6-6) vs. Georgia State (7-5)
12/27 | Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4)
12/31 | Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl: Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Boise State (7-5)
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